Media PC using a HD-Plex H1.S case

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Media PC using a HD-Plex H1.S case

Post by SkidMark » Mon Mar 24, 2014 11:00 am

The following is a short review and summary of my experiences building a silent Media Centre PC based around a HD-Plex H1.S case.

Equipment List
• HD-Plex H1.S case with internal AC-DC and DC-ATX power supplies
• ASRock Z87E-ITX motherboard
• Patriot Viper 3 Black Mamba 2x4GB 1.5V DDR3-1600 RAM
• Intel Core i3-4130 CPU
• Crucial M500 960GB SSD
• Windows 7 Professional x64

HD-Plex H1.S Case
The H1.S parts kit is comprehensive, with everything individually bagged and logically grouped, and the packaging is excellent. Unfortunately, the packer had placed the (heavy) main box on top of the optional items (PSU’s, etc) which had then become badly crushed in transit. However, the components inside survived without harm.

The build was fairly straightforward and took me about 3 hours. The assembly guide can be vague at times and assumes liberal use of common sense, but otherwise is well laid-out and covers most of the installation permutations. The H1.S "Installation Screw Picture Guide" is a very useful supplement to the printed material. I roughly followed the assembly guide and the only correction I would make is that the user should install the back panel before screwing the top plate onto the heat pipes. It's necessary to spread the two side plates slightly to fit the rear panel and this is impossible once the pipes are fixed down. Other than that, things were pretty easy and the H1.S is a well thought out product.

I first of all assembled the PC on the bench to ensure the components worked and to establish a baseline operating temperature using a conventional fan cooler. After an hour of Prime95 the machine reached a stable CPU temperature of 58C. The RAM, Southbridge and VRMs were cold to the touch. I used my own heat-sink to cool the two PSU modules but a better solution is to fasten them to the H1.S faceplate using their proper mounting holes.

My previous experience with passively cooled PCs is that the VRMs and Southbridge depend on a small amount of airflow from the CPU fan to keep temperatures in check. Hence I stacked two 4mm thick blocks of Gap Pad thermal materiel (not supplied with the H1.S, but readily available online) under the VRMs, CPU and Southbridge chips before screwing the motherboard onto the baseplate. Generally, about 20% of the heat from each of these components can be conducted downwards using Gap Pad or a similar material and this helps make up for the lack of airflow. The thermal pad inside the DC-ATX power supply looked uninspiring so I also put a full sized lump of Gap Pad in there too.

After completing assembly I re-ran the same stress tests on the finished item. The resultant CPU temperature after an hour of Prime95 was 76C and the chassis became uncomfortably hot to the touch, especially the front plate. The whole interior, including RAM and SSD, were approaching the chassis temperature of around 55C. These temperatures are above the maximum rated for the CPU and are generally too high for comfort. The heat pipes and Gap Pad do a good job of getting the heat to the exterior of the case but the chassis is under-finned for dissipating such power levels to the surrounding air.

Reducing Power Consumption
I then installed the Intel Extreme Tuning Utility and played around with the Dynamic Voltage Offset to under-volt the CPU. Note that I am using a standard i3-4130, not one of the low power T-series versions. The Intel utility is handy as it allows the voltage to be adjusted and tested on the fly without rebooting the machine each time. To my surprise I could reduce the Vcore by as much as 180mV and still remain stable (the machine crashed at 200mV). After an hour of Prime95 the machine settled to a steady state CPU temperature of 66C and a chassis temperature of 46C. Although not as good a result as the shoddy Intel box cooler achieved, I find these numbers much more acceptable. A side effect of this tweak was to also reduce my idle power draw by a couple of watts. Once I’d established a stable under-volt using the Intel utility I made this change permanent using the CPU Voltage Offset setting in the ASRock BIOS.

I didn’t try reducing my power consumption further by under-volting the GPU or testing maximum power consumption using FurMark, but these remain on my to-do list.

Results Comparison

Box Cooler, Stock Vcore
Vcore=0.811V, CPU=34C, System=26C, AC Power=17W
Vcore=1.096V, CPU=58C, System=28C, AC Power=54W

H1.S, Stock Vcore
Vcore=0.811V, CPU=38C, System=27C, AC Power=17W
Vcore=1.096V, CPU=76C, System=55C, AC Power=54W

H1.S, Under-volted
Vcore=0.638V, CPU=33C, System=25C, AC Power=14W
Vcore=0.919V, CPU=66C, System=46C, AC Power=45W

Assembly Problems
I bought the ASRock motherboard as it was an approved item for the H1.S, but there are a couple of issues with it that HD-Plex don't make explicit - namely the position of the USB3 header is not compatible with the very short and incredibly inflexible cable supplied and that the vertical CMOS battery fouls the heat pipes unless remedial action is taken. Neither issue is a big deal, but it would be better if the HD-Plex approval was caveated appropriately.

CMOS Battery Position
I bent the last two heat pipes around the battery, making sure they didn’t touch either the battery case or each other and taking care not to crimp them.
Although there’s plenty of room inside the case in this region, the bent pipes mean the SSD mounting tray can only go immediately over the CPU rather than being offset. This is undesirable as a good deal of heat is then transferred from the CPU to the disk, raising temperatures more than necessary. I read on the HD-Plex forum that shorter pipes are available but I got no response when I inquired about them.

Wiring Issues
If both the AC-DC and DC-ATX power supplies are used, the area immediately behind the faceplate becomes crowded, with a rats nest of wires struggling for space. It would be impossible to also fit the thick and inflexible USB3 cable from the USB3 header in this region to the external connector (shown in blue at the bottom of the picture), even if the wire was long enough (which it isn’t). It would be much better if the case were 10mm longer to give more space here.

A fourth mounting plate
The H1.S comes with three mounting plates for securing the heat pipes to the chassis sides. I turned one heat pipe around on the left side to more evenly spread heat over the side wall and would have done the same on the right if I had a fourth mounting plate.

Under heavy load there is a noticeable cooler spot on the right of the chassis, just behind the power switch/LED, which could be utilised if a fourth mounting plate was supplied. There is no such cool spot on the left side due to the third pipe being mounted forward.

Overall, I am very pleased with the result of my build. The assembly process was pretty straightforward and produced an attractive computer with excellent performance for my needs. It’s small, unobtrusive and completely silent so I had no difficulty integrating it with my other AV equipment. It consumes so little power I don’t bother switching it off when I’m not using it.

The H1.S case has been a success, though I think a slightly lower power CPU would have been a better choice for it. I think the case would be improved by more fin area and a better place for the SSDs could be found but otherwise it’s a fine piece of equipment.

This is my first ASRock motherboard and it has been a pleasant surprise. It has worked flawlessly from the start and, for me, the combination of AC WiFi, ALC1150 audio and Displayport make it a superior product to the equivalents from Asus or Gigabyte.

All I need now is for XBMC to shake out a few of their bugs and I'm ready to go...
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Re: Media PC using a HD-Plex H1.S case

Post by CA_Steve » Mon Mar 24, 2014 7:42 pm

Awesome first post. Welcome to SPCR.

Posts: 2
Joined: Mon Mar 24, 2014 6:49 am

Re: Media PC using a HD-Plex H1.S case

Post by SkidMark » Mon May 12, 2014 10:41 am

Following my earlier review of the H1.S case, here are some subsequent comments after further tinkering.

Hardware Modification

HD-Plex were kind enough to send me (for no charge!) two short heatpipes and a longer USB3 cable, more appropriate to the Asrock Z87E-ITX motherboard. Since I no longer have to bend the pipes over the CMOS battery I can now use the alternative mounting for the SSD and get it further away from the CPU, greatly reducing the waste heat it receives when the CPU is working hard.
Relocated SSD small.jpg
The USB3 interface on the side of the chassis is now working but is still something of a problem child. The longer cable is sufficient to reach the motherboard header, but not by the easy route around the front of the DIMM slots. Instead I had to fold it back on itself and go around the back. To reduce the strain on the socket (blue on the photo) I ran a tie-wrap through the chassis wall to give the wire something to pull against. Despite this, the wire is still barely long enough and the DIMM rubbed some sheathing off the cable during installation (as shown). Normally, I run the wire under the bundle of ATX power cables but I pulled it out for the purpose of these photos.
Folded USB cable - small.jpg
I now have two more working USB3 ports and overall I'm completely happy with the chassis and the hardware I installed.

Undervolting the Intel GPU

In my previous write-up I reduced power consumption during Prime95 from 54W to 45W and achieved a 10C reduction in chassis temperature just by reducing my CPU Vcore. The procedure was to experiment with various settings using the Intel Extreme Tuning Utility (XTU) before committing permanent changes by updating the BIOS settings.

Following up on this, I ran FurMark for 30 mins using default GPU voltage and measured a system power draw of 42W and a chassis temperature of 44C. I gradually reduced GPU voltage until I saw graphics corruption (-120mV) and a graphics crash (-150mV). My results are summarised as follows:

Vcore = stock: Power=42W, Temperature = 44C

Vcore = -50mV: Power=39W, Temperature = 42C
Vcore = -100mV: Power=37W, Temperature = 41C
Vcore = -120mV: Power=36W (visual anomalies)
Vcore = -150mV: Crash...


Although the power savings from the GPU were less dramatic (5W instead of 9W), they too were made without any performance sacrifice. When the two results are aggregated it shows that it is possible to produce a computer using Intel's cheapest Core i3 processor that runs at full performance using the smallest HD-Plex conduction cooled chassis.

I established to my own satisfaction that 45W is the peak power that this chassis can cool so I set a TDP limit of 38W in the BIOS (to guard against the worst case scenario of running both Prime95 and FurMark in tandem).
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